"Fluvial Procession" by Dominador Castañeda. 1956
thanks to: Mr. Noel Tamayo
Noel's Pilipino Folkdance Glossary
for providing the "Pandango sa Ilaw"
midi used in this page
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The colorful celebration that is the Philippine fiesta certainly has come a long way since the natives flocked the seashores with musical bands to welcome the yearly arrival of the galleon ships from Acapulco. A festive atmosphere pervaded the town plazas then as now, disposed as Filipinos are to celebrating the fiesta for whatever reason. In the Philippines today, the annual fiesta is the main event, the zenith of the year when everyone lives it up and lets go his pent-up emotions that were held in check since the conclusion of the last fiesta. Money never enters the equation - the entire barrio goes all out in celebrating the occasion with a profusion of colors, revelry, and pageantry. But just like everything else, the Filipino fiesta has evolved in varying shapes and forms, and is celebrated for different reasons.
In the Manila district of Quiapo, the solemn observance on January 9th of the Feast of the Black Nazarene is held in marked contrast to the wild revelry on the streets of Kalibo, Aklan. As the religious procession bearing the life-size, dark-brown sculpture of the cross-bearing Black Nazarene snakes around Quiapo, throngs of devotees surge close to the carroza to touch the icon with their towels and handkerchiefs that they would later use on their bodies to cleanse themselves of ailments. In a dissimilar celebration of a fiesta to recall the landing on the island of 10 Bornean datus, the whole town of Kalibo, in the province of Aklan, literally explodes for three days in January when costumed revelers, their bodies and faces covered with charcoal soot, spill into the streets, dancing to the incessant beating of drums, amid tinkling bells and lusty yells of "Hala Bira, Puera Pasma!" It is the Ati-Atihan, three days of soot-blackened orgy of disparate images from myth to reality, that makes the Mardi Gras look tame in comparison.
Just as intense is the dancing on the streets of Obando, Bulacan, to the rhythm of the fandango. Called the Obando Festival, it is an interesting celebration of fertility rites that occurs in mid-May. Itís not what you think, so, guys, before you embark on a trip to that town, remember that all they do down there, at least in public, is dance on the streets all the way to the church to invoke the names of saints. In the town of Pulilan, Bulacan, farmers give thanks every year in May to their patron saint, San Isidro Labrador. The main feature of the day are the hundreds of freshly-washed carabaos adorned with balloons and fresh sampaguita leis.
Then there are thousands of barrios across the length and breadth of the archipelago that celebrate their fiestas to honor their respective patron saint. A compilation of the major fiestas will be incorporated in later pages of Pista sa Nayon.
The texture and dynamics of todayís Philippine fiesta perhaps may be better understood with the animist-Christian legacy in mind. When the 16th century European explorers landed on Homonhon Island in 1521, little did they know that they were penetrating an alien society totally different from theirs. The people that the explorers found on these string of islands that they would later name after their King Phillip II had a strong link with nature and responded to a world alive with spirits of rock, tree, mountain, waterfall, or stream.
The brown man of the islands subscribed to pantheism, a doctrine that there was no God, but believes in the combined forces and laws that were manifested in nature. The brown man's universe was therefore dominated by spirits. With the appearance of the Spanish missionary, the native soon discovered that he was being coerced into a personal relationship with the Christian God. He was made to believe that there is but only one supreme deity who is sovereign over all nature and therefore superior to the invisible power that the brown man held sacred. So powerful was the brown manís original view of the world that even after conversion, he would retain to this day remnants of his pantheist soul.
When natural calamities or enemies threatened the welfare of Christian settlements, the evangelizers took the opportunity to lead everyone to church in quest of a miracle. Soon, environmental spirits of traditional harvest feasts were replaced by Christian saints as friars continually supplied the natives with songs, dances, and colors of Mother Spain to woo the musical race in the worship of Mary, the Virgin.
As the saying goes: "You can take a man out of the country, but you canít take the country out of a man!" Today, the Filipino in distress makes the sign of the cross and recites the "Hail Mary". He regards the holy water, religious icons, and church objects as bestowers of healing and invincibility, and he believes saints as supernatural beings with powers like, yes, his own environmental spirits, the engkanto, from a distant past. But, that's another story that can best be appreciated by visiting our Bahay ng Duwende pages.
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this compartment of the Sari-Sari store, the Pista sa Nayon!
Salaza, Palauig, Zambales
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